Rescue and Recovery on Mississippi's Gulf Coast

The tragedy and ongoing recovery efforts in New Orleans may dominate the headlines, but rescue workers in Mississippi's Gulf Coast region are also fighting to rescue the living, bury the dead and start to rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Alex Chadwick talks with David Schaper.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Alex Chadwick.

One week after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, a massive recovery effort continues. In Mississippi, the degree of destruction from the hurricane is still being assessed, but utilities are slowly being restored. Yesterday President Bush traveled to the region and spoke to residents in Poplarville.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: It's easy for me to say that I can see a better tomorrow 'cause I hadn't been living what you've been living through. But I do. That's what you got to know, that out of the darkness will come some light. Out of this despair is going to come a vibrant coast.

CHADWICK: President Bush speaking in Mississippi yesterday. For more on recovery efforts there, we turn to NPR's David Schaper, who's covering the aftermath.

David, where have you been and what are you seeing?

DAVID SCHAPER reporting:

Well, a good part of yesterday I spent in the southern part of Mississippi north of the coast around the city of Hattiesburg. And you know, the devastation in and around the south-central part of Mississippi is just hugely significant and largely going unreported. It's a largely rural area of the state. There are very--a lot of small towns that have had trouble getting power restored, although Mississippi Power, the power company, says it hopes to have all its customers back up and going by Sunday. There are still trees down and structures might not have been washed away as they were along the Gulf Coast, but they still are structurally unsound and tens and tens of thousands of people are going to be homeless from the storm.

CHADWICK: When you say that trees are down, are the roads passable anyway? Can you get into all these places?

SCHAPER: Most of the areas are passable--at least the main state highways and county highways. Obviously the interstates are now open again. But I'll tell you that you drive down these roads and you may have to turn into the other lane to get around a tree, and the level of the destruction and the magnitude of it--it's just so far and wide, the area that was devastated by the storm, it's ever-present.

CHADWICK: Aren't there still evacuees in this region? People who've come from the directly coastal area, and maybe people from Louisiana as well?

SCHAPER: There are a lot of people who evacuated from New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast who, before Katrina hit, went just a little further north, thinking that `As long as I'm not on the coast the damage won't seem so bad.' Many have been in shelters and have nowhere to go now. But many more keep streaming up as they get aid and they get help, they're not taking the busloads, but they are getting church buses here and there, and vans here and there, and people who are just being driven out by Good Samaritans and that sort of thing, and they're really trying to take a longer-term look at how they absorb and, as one pastor of a church who has about 40 evacuees in his church basement told me, integrate them into their community. That means hooking them up with services.

There are a number of companies, fast-food companies and other local employers who are starting to post help-wanted ads in the coliseum in downtown Jackson, where about 2,000 evacuees are staying.

CHADWICK: David, we've heard so much about anger in New Orleans. How do people in Mississippi feel about the efforts of emergency officials to recover from the hurricane?

SCHAPER: Well, I would say the level is twofold. On one point, they see all the attention that New Orleans is getting and there's a lot of people who feel Mississippi is forgotten, even along the Gulf Coast, which has gotten a lot of attention from the media. But people say that they're not getting the relief supplies they need. The director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said over the weekend that he's getting less than half of what he's requested. The mayor of Hattiesburg, for example, has been very, very critical, saying he called FEMA the very first day the storm hit, on Monday; didn't hear anything until Saturday. And the smaller towns are even more isolated and getting relief supplies even more slowly.

CHADWICK: NPR's David Schaper in Mississippi.

David, thank you.

SCHAPER: Thank you.

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